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Piano Practicing: Breathing into phrases and blocking out passages (Mozart Sonata, example)

I’ve picked the first two pages of Mozart’s Sonata in Bb Major, K. 281, last movement, Rondeau, Allegro to explore breathing and blocking techniques in the learning process. (These principles can be applied to practicing music from a variety of eras)

Starting a composition is often taken for granted. Sometimes students will land on a first note, for example, with the force a belly plop into a pool. Others will forget there are opening notes, (as the 4-16ths upbeat of Mozart Sonata K. 333 in Bb) They’ll breathe a sigh of relief, once they’ve managed to elude them, moving with alacrity to longer, spaced-out notes.)

Yet, this very “sigh of relief,” can be utilized as a relaxed stream of expressed air to usher in a pleasing opening note or notes.

Naturally, breathing into phrases with ease should be ongoing as a composition flows, so biofeedback becomes a vital practicing ingredient. (I recommend that students keep a journal of awakenings)

Blocking

Blocking out passages to obtain fluidity is a simultaneous part of the learning spectrum. Thinking in “groups” of notes, especially with fast passages, encourages “fast melody,” instead of chaotic crowds of notes without shape, meaning or contour. Knowing the geography of notes, therefore, is an organizer that helps smooth out phrases (Relaxed arms and supple wrists accompany)

The first video below spotlights the aforementioned practicing areas, adding an awareness of dynamic contrasts/ weight transfer, and the use of solfeggiated syllables (do, re, mi, etc) to follow and absorb voices. (Separate hand practice and voice parceling within a slow, behind tempo frame are recommended)


Play through
(still behind tempo)

Mozart k281 rondeau p 1

Mozart k 281 rondeau p 2

LINK

Chopin, Warm-ups and the Art of Breathing

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/06/30/piano-warm-ups-and-the-art-of-breathing-video/

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Mommas and Babies in the Music World

DSC06067

momma and baby violin II

At a Skype lesson to Alaska

best best baby

funny face baby

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The C Major Scale universe: metric and muscle memory; shaping and tapering

Most piano students celebrate the C Major scale as an “easy” journey over 8 notes and back.

But as the attached video instruction proves, the ingredients of playing this scale with a fluid, well-shaped legato (smooth and connected) in transition to a crisp and vibrant staccato touch (forte and piano) is a “challenge.”

One of my out-of-state Skype students amply described the terrain as she patiently practiced her 8ths to 16ths, (legato/staccato)

“It’s hard!”

I’d second that for these reasons:

Keeping a steady, singing pulse, ascending and descending requires presence of mind, and a sense of “breathing” through the notes.

Anticipation is out the door as 8ths double to 16ths. What about 32nds?

All the more reason to RELAX and psychologically BROADEN your perspective. Don’t crowd the notes!

Metric memory, especially, is a great asset when memorializing the scale over and again. One doesn’t want a shaky landscape to embed a curvaceous spin from C to C.. or from Sea to Shining Sea.

On a patriotic note, I love oceanic analogies when I play the piano, though more often, I draw upon images of smaller bodies of water, like babbling brooks. (Think of Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet, or rippling piano accompaniments to his Lieder)

Why digress with mental imagery? Because using one’s imagination to play the C Scale will help it rise to the occasion, not crash and burn!

To play a C Major scale beautifully, sing it, shape it, and taper at its conclusion. (A supple forward wrist motion is recommended)

For certain, a lesson-in-progress is worth more than a thousand words:

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Knee-jerk technology brings the keyboard closer to an Online piano student

I never thought I’d see myself in this posture reaching across the ocean to Greece. Connecting to a student within range of the Parthenon was unimaginable.

logitech on knee

But consider a small, innocuous Logitech cam, model C920HD1080, placed on my knee, (not in the service of a marriage proposal)–but used to unsnarl a tricky Mozart second theme ornament and you have a happy pupil, and praise-giving teacher.

right hand plays logitech knee

Now if my late, beloved mentor, Lillian Freundlich, had gotten wind of my knee-propped telescopic lens as I instructed a student in Kos, an Island of beauty and historical riches, she might have dashed off more than a weak-kneed note of disapproval!

Notwithstanding her discomfort with transmitting piano lessons over SKYPE, she would scornfully gaze down at me from her heavenly cloud.

But would the Greek Gods on Olympus be more forgiving?

They might agree that even Chopin’s music could seep onto the Greek canvas through a web-cam driven exchange. Weren’t piano lessons an Athenian and Spartan undertaking that fed the spirit and primed the muscles?

In an earthly visit, the Gods would hail the Logitech cam as a great assist for students hungering for a bigger-than-life close-up of the keyboard UNIVERSE. In fact, the angles driven by the device were an improvement over LIVE bench presses with awkward body shuffling. (“O.K. Oscar, honey, please move over, so I can demonstrate the trill.”) If Professor Woldanksky was the size of an opera diva, the effort might KNEED a hefty expenditure of energy!

That’s why I always opted for coaching at the second piano while having the MAC Internal cam double on my efforts. (The LIVE student, a distant participant at the primary GRAND piano, would receive an emailed video at the end of the day that BLEW UP our interplay)

Forgive my over-scheduling!

All kidding aside, the knee-jerk technology that embraces the Logitech in SKYPE transmitted piano lessons can be a time-saver.

lh plays rh in air logitech

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The business of copying the piano teacher: Who has the final say or PLAY?

The latest provocative teacher exchange is taking place on Facebook at the “Art of Piano Pedagogy” which has now become a private forum.

When it comes to teaching philosophies, many are intensely opinionated.

From my perspective, I passionately believe in sharing my ground-up musical insights with students to justify my presence at the lesson in the first place whether
“live” or by SKYPE.

That means I see my role as being a mentor and font of inspiration, while the student, on an equal footing with me, feeds back in kind what I have to carefully process and refine in my own studies so that we both come to common conclusions about phrasing and interpretation.

How often a student has “taught” me something that I would never otherwise have learned in my solo practicing cubicle.

Does that mean that I in some way, stored HIS idea and patented it as my own–copying him, in the negative sense?

In truth living life is copying others that came before us and likewise in the musical arena, gads of students will have studied the same pieces over decades, coming to varying interpretive conclusions with and without teachers.

Yet if I’m invited into a pupil’s learning environment, to be a guide or teacher, it’s my obligation to bring something original and unique, not carbon-copied, that ignites a student’s self-realization process.

So what is my teaching philosophy, and does it require a pupil to “copy” me?

1) I see myself as an eternal learner with a deep commitment to peeling away layers of a piece in a patient setting.

The student is simultaneously engaged, but may not have the experience to approach his music in a way that produces the most gratification for him.

He plays, I listen. I give something back about how to improve (from my perspective) a phrase or musical line. He may not have known there were three voices to isolate and study. I owe it to him to suggest that he delve into these separate lines.

He may not have realized that the fingering he has chosen has tripped him up. I feel obligated to offer a smoother fingering, while trying his out again. I watch him experiment with what I have in mind.

If it works for him, the music soars, not the teacher’s ego.

Which leads next to:

2) The music matters most, not who is leading or following.

I can be a follower if a student has a percolating idea that has enriched or changed my ideas about a phrase. At the same time, I can be a leader, helping a student map out the form, structure and harmonic rhythm of a piece.

3) The singing tone and how to produce it is my mantra.

I remember how I internalized the sound ideal I wanted from the piano as a young student but had no idea about the physical means to the end. My mentor led the way, working note-by-note, teaching me about relaxation, dead weight gravity, and relaxation. All sprung from the music itself and its organic substance.

In this creatively woven environment, I was not “copying” my teacher as a trade for self-initiated learning. I needed and hungered for direction and received it.

4) What about lessons and video follow-up?

I affirm that these amount to self-clarifications of my musical ideas synthesized with what “played” out during the lesson. In so many words, I can’t produce a custom-made video without having as its basis what the student “gave” me to work with.

Here again, I’m not on a podium of reserved perfection, but indebted to the pupil for stimulating thought about how to interpret, shape, or otherwise approach a piece so that it best realizes the composer’s intent.

To the contrary, here’s an example of a literal copying approach, that keeps the student in a boxed-in relationship with her teacher.

(The mentor is a fine pianist, and this example is not meant to discredit her playing samples)

On the positive side, the student and teacher are getting quite a bit of exercise in the spoon-fed, this-is-how-you-do-it, learning process.

To close here’s a sample of my conducting a student– an opportunity to teach and keep in shape.

Fundamentally, this interchange clarified the voicing of Bach’s A minor 2-part Invention, No. 13 on an animated level. In addition, the student had many videotaped lessons where she and I together explored counterpoint, and Bach’s various composing techniques that included inversion, modulation, etc. This was part of a layered-learning approach that increased the student’s playing enjoyment.

Lillian Freundlich, my most influential teacher was actively involved singing, conducting as I played and showed me piece-by-piece how to learn by increments. However, her biggest gift to me and all her students was how she imbued the singing tone through months of hands-on exposure. For her divine MODELING I am eternally grateful.

These videos represent the legacy she passed on to me.

The Art of Breathing and piano playing


https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/06/30/piano-warm-ups-and-the-art-of-breathing-video/

Close-up playing models for J.S. Bach (over Skype)

***

To breathe is to “copy” every human being that ever came before us.

analysis Bach Little Prelude in D minor BWV 926, Bach Little Prelude in D minor BWV 926, J.S. Bach, Skype, Skype piano lessons, you tube video, you tube.com, yout tube, youtube.com

My complete analysis of Bach’s Little Prelude in D minor, BWV 926 (Video)

This in-depth examination of Bach’s composition follows a Skype lesson. Most long-distance learning students need this reinforcement to make good use of their practice time during the week.

LINK:
https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/10/18/bachs-little-prelude-in-d-minor-bwv-926-is-by-no-means-diminutive-videos/

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Online Piano Lessons by Webcam: Pros and Cons (Videos)

I’m not about to pitch web-cam driven piano instruction like a CD package promoter of Piano Playing in a Flash. Learning piano is not in the espresso lane. It takes time, patience, and practice.

The question is, can a student gain as much from Online piano study vs. “live” in-person lessons.

For decades I was a tradition-bound teacher with a touchy feely relationship to my instrument. My goal had always been to ignite passion about tone production and phrasing in the presence of my students. (Who would think, otherwise?)

My beloved NYC teacher Lillian Freundlich was my role model. She always sat beside me to monitor tensions that crept into my movements. Quite often she checked my elbows and wrists until I could experience my own sense of physical freedom and Oneness with the piano. Frequently, she sang over my playing in a mother-loving musical transfer that helped me shape phrases.

When I grew up to become a piano teacher, I carried on her legacy, hovering over my students, singing, conducting, and sometimes squeezing myself onto a tight-fitting bench to demonstrate a line or two.

Any other form of mentoring was culture alien.

It was like a hurricane it, when I sprang upon a You Tube of concert pianist, Jeffrey Biegel teaching a young adult student in Singapore. While thousands of miles separated the two, meaningful instruction transpired. Right before my eyes, in less than 30 minutes, the pupil’s phrasing had improved.

I was inspired enough to try out the Millennium piano teaching landscape, having an open mind.

One of my earliest Skyped lessons was transmitted to an adult student whom I’d taught “live” in El Cerrito, California. Since she would be missing a few sessions due to business obligations, a convenient make-up schedule was needed. The Online route seemed like an easy option.

The lesson flowed well and further make-ups ensued. Here’s one example:

Here’s a “live” lesson with the same student as a means of comparison:

The positives of SKYPING

1) I can strategically place my Logitech external webcam so it provides an up-close-and-personal keyboard view of my arms, hands and wrists. This camera placement allows me to demonstrate various phrases for the student.

Likewise, the student can angle her camera for an optimal view of her hands if she has good equipment. Some students rely on the computer’s internal camera which can work if the lap top is moved close enough to their instrument.

(A London-based student uses a SWIX external cam that provides an outstanding view of her hands and keyboard)

When I think about it, this big screen enhancement of our piano-related physiology, provides a minute-to-minute flow of music and ideas that doesn’t require my nudging a student off the bench for a demonstration.

With pupils I had coached from my second piano (a Steinway upright) the distance would be larger than by computer channels, though I could still walk over to the student if she were present.

(MUSIC READER, incidentally, is a program that allows the teacher to post the music a student is playing, and make notations of fingering, dynamics, etc. as the lesson is in progress. It’s another distance-bridger that supports Online lessons.)

2) From a faraway location, an Online pupil can videotape a “live” Skype lesson aiming the camera in the teacher’s direction. (Many students have done this, though I often send them a supplementary video during the week to flesh out the goals of our lesson)

Convenience of Scheduling

3) Online instruction affords flexibility in setting lesson times. For students wanting to sandwich in a lesson over a lunch break or on weekends, even Sundays, it’s mouse click away. No travel, no hassle.

In cities where access to private instruction is limited, web-caming provides an otherwise unavailable learning opportunity.

(In this regard, I’ve fielded inquiries from Vietnam and Malaysia, among other distant countries. Time differences, however, have to be considered.)

In rural areas of the US, the same access can be provided through Online instruction.

Disadvantages

1) Online transmission, no matter what source is used, is not completely free of interference, static, pauses, echoes. (Earphones don’t always solve these problems) In addition, the sound or tone of an acoustic piano is somewhat marred over Skype. Even using Go to Office, tone was somewhat improved though not yet perfected. (For better audio, I use a Yeti mic, instead of my Mac’s internal mic)

While on certain days or times, a complete lesson may flow smoothly without electronic impediment, there will more than likely be periods when both parties will have to sign off, and re-sign on to establish a better connection.

After a while, this is something both student and teacher accept as part of the current landscape, though improvements in technology are in progress.

2) Two pianos cannot not play at the same time, as there may be a time lag that affects synchronized efforts. (Forget duet playing as an option)

3) The etiquette of Skyping or web-caming is that the teacher and student speak or play separately. This requires mutual patience.

4) Singing over a playing is not advised, since it poses the same overlay of complications, though I can’t seem to stop my spontaneous vocalizing Online or offline.

SUPPLEMENTS to web-cam instruction

I find it advantageous to send videos to my Online private students during the week, (at no extra charge) that review the assignment and highlight practicing goals. These run about 15 minutes and are transmitted as UNLISTED or PRIVATE You Tubes.

In a few cases, pupils have sent me video updates of their practicing to which I shoot back a responsive one, or provide a written critique of what has improved and/or needs more focus.

Video sharing is enormously helpful and seems indispensable to Online instruction.

Theory instruction can also be a valued adjunct to private lessons. It can be scheduled mid-week, or at the end of the month to enrich piano study.

Group Webcam Lessons

This is a relatively a new universe of piano teaching. POWHOW features piano lesson sign-ups in a class or private one-to-one setting.

Currently I teach a tone production class that had its maiden voyage a few months ago.

In this setting, I have boxes to tap when checking the progress of individual students, a mind-boggling concept to entertain. Take a look:

On both sides there are mute buttons, and one that permits a student not to be seen by other class members.

Otherwise with individual piano students, there’s only one box to keep track of.

A Word about teaching children Online

I haven’t mentioned my experiences Skyping private lessons to children. This is an area where the verdict is not yet in.

My inclination is NOT to teach raw beginners Online. 5 to 10-year olds need close monitoring and the physical presence of a teacher at the inception of learning. The right chemistry and the quality of a personal/musical relationship with a youngster are paramount to the success of lessons.

In addition, duet playing which is a valuable teaching and ear-training activity in the early years, especially, is not feasible with current technology.

Older children, perhaps, who are at Intermediate or Advanced levels, with good attention spans, would be better candidates for Skyped instruction.

One parent in Oregon hired me to teach his 8-year old, and while these web-cam lessons were productive, it was my decision to ultimately refer her to a private teacher in her area.

Here is one of our SKYPED lessons. In this case, we had set up a video exchange for easy back and forth musical sharing.

***

When all is said and done, Online piano lessons are the wave of the future. Just as cell phones have replaced land lines, taking private and group lessons over the Internet, with improved transmission in the offing, will be considered second nature.

More Examples of Skyped lessons:

Setting up for a Skype lesson to London, England:

A Skyped Lesson to Sydney Australia (piano technique)

Skyping between California and Greece:

Logitech close-up views of the keyboard:

Once again, compare to LIVE lessons (East Bay, California–I’ve relocated to Berkeley!)

Chopin A minor Waltz, No. 19, Op. Posthumous:

Play Through:

RELATED: https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/06/30/piano-warm-ups-and-the-art-of-breathing-video/

LINK:

http://www.powhow.com/classes/shirley-kirsten